TWELVE YEARS OF HELL
GENEVAN WOMAN HELD AGAINST HER WILL BY SCIENTOLOGY
By convicting Scientology of organised fraud early in February, the Paris court of appeal indirectly sent a strong signal to 34-year-old Valeska Paris, a former Scientology member who now lives in Sydney. She was held against her will beginning at the age of 18 on the "Freewinds", the pride of the Scientology fleet. It was an odyssey to the edge of madness.
by Blaise Calame
February 22, 2012
"I was subjected to brainwashing for the first 29 years of my life. I had to readapt myself to the world. Women of my age had an adolescence and they've had romances. Not me." The story of Valeska Paris, a 34-year-old Genevan woman, is chilling. She was caught in a trap by Scientology long before the age of reason and today she is trying to rebuild her life in Sydney, where she works in event management.
Valeska was born in Meyrin (Canton of Geneva) on December 12, 1977. "I remember that we lived near the French border," she says, during a telephone interview. Jean-François Paris, her father is French, and Arianne, her mother, Swiss. The couple had three children, Valeska being the eldest. Her sister Melissa was born in 1979 and her brother Raphaël in 1982. They were a Scientology family.
The Genevan childhood of the Paris siblings came to an end with the divorce of their parents. Valeska was only 6 years old. The father, who obtained custody of the children, joined the Sea Organisation, a sort of Scientology elite, in East Grinstead, England.
The children were boarded in the Cadet Organisation, where education consists chiefly of scrubbing floors and cleaning toilets. According to Scientology, every human being has lived thousands of lives over the centuries; a person's spirit, called a "thetan", is imbued with that experience. A child is thus a synthesis of multiple prior existences. Scientology is not for people who don't take such things seriously.
Although they were divorced, both parents remained inside the cult. Valeska's mother, Arianne, remarried a Frenchman, Albert Jaquier, a former scrap metal dealer who built up a veritable fortune that he soon dilapidated by spending it on Scientology, before committing suicide in December 1994. The indifference and contempt displayed by the cult drove his widow to denounce the nefarious organisation on the TF1 television channel, a move that cost her children dearly. For Scientologists, Valeska's mother had become a pariah, or a "suppressive person". That year, Valeska saw her mother for the last time in what turned out to be a very long time. At age 14, Valeska was forced to sign a contract binding her to the cult "for a billion years" (sic)!
Valeska was transferred to the Flag Land Base, the headquarters of the Sea Org, in Clearwater, Florida, where she was assigned to serve Scientology's leader, David Miscavige, an American.
In September 1996, when Valeska was 18, Miscavige sent her to his flagship, the Freewinds, which cruises the Caribbean. "They woke me up one morning and I left," she says, "for what was supposed to be two weeks ..." She remained on the ship twelve years, unable to contact her family and with no visits allowed.
"The first time I went aboard," says she, "I hated it. I immediately wanted to leave, but my passport had been confiscated and we were under surveillance twenty-four hours a day. It was impossible to escape. I gave up." Any form of misconduct was severely punished. The engine room, with its noisy furnace, served as a jail cell, and Valeska Paris often found herself confined there ...
The most advanced Scientologists visit the ship for a spiritual training session called "Operating Thetan Level 8" or OT VIII - a course that costs $8,000. Every month of June, there is a Maiden Voyage, an annual commemorative cruise, that attracts flocks of followers. Valeska Paris remembers, in particular, a surreal visit by Tom Cruise (see sidebar).
MARRIED TO A GHOST
On May 9, 1998, Valeska married Roberto Toppi, a member of the Italian Sea Org, but he turned into a real ghost. "During seven years of marriage, we spent less than ten months together," sighs Valeska. Their divorce took place in 2005.
On the Freewinds, the Genevan was exploited for 50 dollars a week. She began in 1996 as a waitress. Six years later, she became an auditor and an instructor. "I was stuck in a trap," she says. "That was the only life I knew. I was taught that Scientology was the only answer and I had no reason to doubt it." Indoctrination is perverse.
However, she saw people having breakdowns. Other persons who were once held up as models would suddenly become stigmatised. David Miscavige behaved like a tyrant. In 2007, during one of her confinements to the engine room, Valeska Paris lost consciousness and nearly died.
As Valeska approached the age of 30, she developed a single ambition: to escape. She was considered dangerous because of her unpredictable behaviour. This made her a perfect candidate for Scientology's re-education camp or, in Scientology jargon, the Rehabilitation Project Force (RPF), which is located in Sydney. "Sea Org officials decided my fate," she says, "but I didn't care, as long as I could get off the damn ship." The organisation required that she accept the assignment in writing. She consented.
A RAIN OF REPRISALS
In the RPF, in Sydney, Valeska met Chris Guider, a Scientologist who had also been sentenced there. He became her second husband on March 23, 2009. A son, Declan, was born on July 22, 2010. In late August 2009, before their son's birth, the couple broke away completely from Scientology. Valeska Paris signed confidentiality agreements, but this did not stop her from speaking out.
The response was a rain of reprisals. While she was pregnant with Declan, Valeska received messages of insults from her father and her brother, both of whom, unlike her sister Melissa, remained Scientologists, her father in Chicago, her brother in Los Angeles. Valeska managed to re-establish contact with her younger sister and, especially, with her mother, Arianne, whom she had not seen for fifteen years.
In Australia, Valeska is rebuilding her life. She is even expecting a second child. Her best weapon against the Church of Scientology, which has tried to silence her by sending her threatening letters, is her testimony. Valeska Paris Guider no longer allows herself to be intimidated: "I don't think I will ever be sued, because I have enough to implicate David Miscavige in person, and Scientology will never take the risk of exposing him to a court."